College Students Surf, Spend

The Internet is a way of life for U.S. college students, as research finds that they represent one of the most connected demographic groups. A collaborative study by Harris Interactive and 360 Youth revealed that 93 percent of college students access the Internet in a given month, and Jupiter Research (a unit of this site’s corporate parent) expects this market to slowly swell from 15.2 million in 2003 to 16.4 million in 2007.

The slow growth rate of these early adopters could be attributed to the already high penetration of college Internet users. In fact, the Fall 2002 Harris study found that a whopping 88 percent of college students own a computer, and more than half (56 percent) have broadband connections. Furthermore, 67 percent own cell phones and 36 percent use their mobile devices to access the Internet.

The high level of penetration is largely due to the fact that many college-age students essentially grew up with computers and have incorporated the Internet into their daily routines. A report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 20 percent of the 2,000+ college students that were surveyed between March 2002 and June 2002 began using computers between the ages of 5 and 8, translating into a huge college population of Internet users. Also, 47 percent first began using the Internet at home before they arrived at college, and 85 percent own their own computer.

Are all these college students using the Internet for research? Not according to findings from Pew, which indicate that 42 percent primarily go online to communicate socially, and almost three-quarters (72 percent) of college students check email at least once a day, with 66 percent using at least two email addresses. The most popular online social activity is forwarding messages to friends or family, with 37 percent of college students reporting doing so.

The Harris Interactive/360 Youth study also looked beyond the surfing habits and into the buying habits of this market, and found that this group was responsible for more than $210 billion in sales last year alone. Furthermore, with two-thirds of college students holding paying jobs, they represent $53.9 billion in discretionary spending annually.

Derek White, executive vice president of Alloy, Inc. (360 Youth is the media and marketing arm of Alloy, Inc.), comments: “The teen and college population have one of the highest percentages of discretionary income in the country, and there is heavy competition among marketers for those consumer dollars.”

College students have learned to spend their money wisely, as 93 percent cite low prices as important when shopping, and 80 percent shop at general purpose retailers like Wal-Mart and K-Mart.

The research also revealed that 65 percent of respondents have loan payments; 41 percent of freshmen have a credit card; and 79 percent of seniors have a credit card.

A significant portion of charges on those credit cards are likely to be for entertainment and leisure related expenses. The college student market is responsible for spending almost $5 billion on travel, $790 million at the movies, $390 million on attending music concerts, $318 million at amusement parks, and $272 million at professional sporting events in 2002.

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